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Artists Without Borders

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Posted on September 20 2010 10:00 pm
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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Artists 4 Israel

Why not?

We understand that doctors and other emergency care personnel cross borders and leave their own political point of view behind. If quake victims happen to live under a dictatorship—no matter; if a girl’s face has been burned away by an acid attack, or her nose and ears mutilated by Muslim madmen—no matter; the doctors will continue to treat both the victims and those who attacked them if necessary.

Indeed, in Israel, physicians treat their own victims of terrorism as well as the Arab, Palestinian terrorists who tried to murder them.

Composing music, painting, dancing, singing, acting, writing, thinking, all have the power to delight, illuminate, and console the human spirit. Artists pride themselves on refusing to recognize false boundaries. Once, they believed, as Keats did, that “beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”

That was well before the era of propaganda artists and their propagandized offspring. Artists should not politically censor themselves or each other. Artists should not limit their audience only to those with whom they agree. Communist and Nazi regimes once did this to their artists. Muslim/Islamist regimes have taken up that dubious mantle. And prominent Western artists are joining them.

Has everyone forgotten that the Indian novelist, Salman Rushdie, had to spend a decade in hiding because his work of fiction “offended” Ayatollah Khomeini? Do people remember that the Dutch artist, Theo Van Gogh, was murdered because he made a pro-woman film which “offended” the Islamist sensibilities of his Moroccan murderer? Do they understand that Kurt Westergaard has had to live under armed guard around the clock because his fairly inoffensive Mohammed cartoons “offended” Muslim/Islamist sensibilities? Draw a line between Westergaard and his Danish newspaper, Jyllens-Posten (which was recently the target of an attempted bombing attack), and our own Seattle-based Molly Norris, who suggested that we have a “Draw Mohammed Day” and whom the FBI has just turned into a “ghost” for her own safety?

It is tragic when artists boycott only one country on earth—any country for that matter. Once, in 2003, the Swedish filmmaker, Lukas Moodyson, refused to allow his film about female sexual slavery to be shown at a conference against female sexual slavery because that conference was taking place in Israel. Moodyson had allowed his film to be shown on every continent where brothels and trafficking flourish, but not in Israel. I wrote about this for Frontpage after the New York Times had turned the piece down. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship there. I pointed out that great talent does not render an artist immune from vulgar prejudices.  Moodyson knew my work (many of my books had been translated into Swedish), and he wrote me in great anger, but then he relented and allowed the Israeli conference to show his film “Lilya-4-ever.”

But now there is a new boycott by American, European, and Israeli theatre people, writers, and academics (Ed Asner, Theodore Bikel, Eve Ensler, Tony Kushner, Julianne Moore, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Sondheim) of the Ariel Cultural Center in Israel. I wrote about this here. I ask why artists are taking a stand only against Israel, but not against any other country.

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